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Meet Ruth Agbakoba: The Young Nigerian Leading The World

“I’ve learnt to believe in myself. It’s something I’ve worked to develop during my PhD ― to recognise that I’m here through hard work and not good fortune.”- Ruth Agbakoba

Nigerian PhD Candidate, Ruth Agbakoba won the 1st prize award at The World Congress on Medical IT. Congrats to her.

About Ruth

Current job

MRC-funded PhD student in e-health and digital health at the University of Glasgow

Key quote

“I’ve learnt to believe in myself. It’s something I’ve worked to develop during my PhD ― to recognise that I’m here through hard work and not good fortune.”

Length of career

Five years

Career in brief

I did A levels in biology, chemistry, French and IT so it’s probably not surprising that I ended up in digital health. I was part of a cohort of students on the UK’s first clinically led undergraduate biomedical informatics course at St George’s Medical School, University of London. I graduated in 2009 with a first class honours and then I was offered an informatics scholarshipopens in new window at City University London where I completed an MSc in health informatics.

I then worked in the NHS for a year as an information analyst. I wanted to work outside academia to get a holistic view of careers in this area, but I’d always planned on coming back to academia and in 2012 I was one of six students to get an MRC studentship at the University of Glasgow.

I spend my days

I do a lot of catching up with emails and organising meetings. I also hold regular coding clinics where my supervisory team validate my data analysis. I’ve taken advice to get involved in lots of different aspects of research: I’m on the organising committee of a student conference, and review journal papers as well as doing my research. My research evaluates a national project in Scotland called Living it Upopens in new window, which is part of a larger UK-wide study looking at how digital technologies such as television, smartphones, games consoles and computers can be used to empower people to improve their own health and wellbeing. My research evaluates the project in real-time to see how successfully it is being incorporated into people’s everyday lives.

Career highlights

There are two that really stand out. One was being voted as doing the best presentation at our Institute of Health and Wellbeing conference in 2014. Accolades like that mean a lot when they come from your peers. The second was presenting at a major conference in my field in New York, also in 2014. It was great to present my research on an international platform.

Skills I need to do my job

A lot of it is time and project management. I’ve also learnt many transferable skills from being on the MRC doctoral training programme such as interviewing techniques and qualitative data analysis which I’ve put into practice in my research. I’ve also trained as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and I have monitored and assessed master’s degree students.

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Biggest challenges

The project I’m evaluating is still ongoing, so I have to be able to adapt to changing situations and keep pace (though that makes it exciting too).

I am inspired by

I have so many mentors! Being a multidisciplinary student, I have four supervisors (across clinical medicine, computing and social science) all of whom provide advice and support. But this is also a bit of a challenge as they all have different expectations for me to meet. My family are also a really important source of support — my twin sister is doing a PhD in a similar research area also in Glasgow, and we really help each other out.

Words of wisdom

Be prepared to work hard, and be proactive. It’s quite easy to become isolated when you’re doing a PhD, so I would recommend that people get involved in as many activities as possible. A PhD isn’t just about your research project; it’s about becoming an early-career researcher.

Next steps

I’m not sure if I’ll follow the traditional postdoc route in research. Ideally I’d like to be able to combine academic research with working with a company in the field such as a large technology company or non-governmental organisation.

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